The Garden of Earthly Delights

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In 2017, I went to a talk about gravitational waves at a hacker house in San Francisco. A year prior, LIGO had first detected gravitational waves, and a young post-grad came to talk to a room full of novices about the science behind the discovery.

I knew a little about the topic already, probably from some YouTube video, because I had recently developed a new ambition to work in the space industry. I liked my art directing job, but it wasn't a serious long-term career prospect. The lecturer was friendly but nervous, speaking the whole time with his notes typed up on A4 paper in front of his face.

Some loudmouth beside me kept interrupting the speaker every few minutes to make minor corrections or add unnecessary details. I tried to ignore it. The interrupter was obviously very smart, and wanted to make sure the lecturer got it right. But when the lecturer started describing how the gravitational waves squish the Earth when they pass through it the interrupter said, "So we can all share a common language, don't refer to it as the Earth, call it the analog of a sphere." This struck me as the single most asinine thing a person could say. I turned my head to look and saw that the interrupter was Eric Weinstein.

I knew who Weinstein was because, at the time, I was a masochistic listener of The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE). I had recently discovered that all men are insane and was doing my part to get to the bottom of their intentions and aspirations straight from the source.

Weinstein was articulate and distinguished himself from other JRE guests by having received fewer concussions than the others. He had received a PhD from Harvard in Physics but moved away from academia into the world of finance. At this time, still fleshing out his character, he referred to himself as an economist and as a key whistleblower in the 2008 collapse.

Weinstein's talking points will seem familiar to us now. Universities have become too woke, and DEI initiatives are bringing the education system to a standstill. The US economy is stagnating, and humanity needs "innovation" to transform itself into a multi-planetary species.

When I was on my way out that night, I thought about asking him some questions, but as I walked over to the emptied living room, I found him sitting in a chair, lecturing to a cluster of young women cross-legged on the floor. They, no doubt, were on a similar quest as me.

Around this time, I was coming around to this hacker house often. There is a common misconception that hacker houses in San Francisco are just for young or broke people. These houses, which are precisely as grimy and stale as you imagine, are usually filled with people of an average age of forty, and, if they are to be believed, impressive resumes. They are essentially frat houses for those in mid-life peril, with slightly less sticky floors but many more LED lights, poorly conceived murals, and, at the time I lived there, open bottles of Soylent.

However, at 22 and susceptible to platitudes, if I was the composite of the five people I hung around the most, and if I wanted to realize my career ambitions, I should probably be hanging around this hacker house more often. Thirteen people lived there together, with an area downstairs that acted like a hotel and could house a few more. Most were upper management of the same satellite company about to go IPO. I didn't have the complete picture then, but this satellite company made its money taking pictures of oil refineries and foreign military camps and selling them to hedge funds and the military.

I could put the weirdness of their living conditions aside when I went over there because of the intoxicating stories I heard from anyone I happened to be sitting next to. Everyone seemed just to be back from watching a rocket launch in New Zealand or Russia. One woman I talked to was founding a company whose purpose was to launch satellites every day of the year. More launches meant more data for humans. Another man's goal was to launch DNA into space. What kind of DNA have I always wanted to know. Some nights, I would come over but be told I couldn't go inside. "Elon's here". But, as a youthful pupil in the community, I could always hang out on the front porch and help gatekeep.

When I was back at the house a week later, I tried asking around about Weinstein – who knew him, what he was like in real life – but I was quickly accused of being a reporter. That may have been a correct assumption, as I am now reporting on it, but I noticed a chill towards me in the house. A few weeks later, I finally accepted a position at that space job I had always wanted, which I found not through them but through an online job portal, and packed up to move out of San Francisco and into the desert.

This is when I began to think a lot about Eric Weinstein. Working on a research telescope (The Vera C. Rubin Observatory) made me realize the enormous collaborative scale of scientific research, which shattered my youthful assumptions about science. For the telescope to see first light, a giant building would have to be constructed on top of a mountain in the Atacama Desert, housing the largest camera ever built, at 6000 pounds, and a piece of glass so giant they had to build it underneath a football stadium. On its first day receiving data, the telescope will generate 5 petabytes (5000 terabytes) of data and will do it again every day it exists. All these engineering elements must work together in delicate harmony for this remarkable object to exist. Immeshed in this world, I spent my days wondering when I would reach the point of scientific fluency where I would realize it is much more straightforward to say "the analog of a sphere" instead of "the Earth"?

While I was revolutionizing science, physicist Weinstein started his podcast, The Portal. Some of the woven metaphors he had shared on early guest podcast appearances began taking a more precise form there.

Weinstein reveals that he was a great lover of the Harvard institution. However, during graduate school, he was asked to leave the state of Massachusetts before completing his doctoral thesis. He innocently suggested some new mathematical equations to Ed Witten (a famous physicist), but he did not like them. Angering the great man, he was asked to leave the state and could not attend his thesis defense in person. With luck, he was still able to graduate, leaving him in good academic standing but with a bruised reputation and a chip on his shoulder.

Years later, as a postdoc, he attended a lecture held by Witten at Harvard. There, he saw his equations on the blackboard. Only Ed Witten, the most famous physicist on the planet, didn't seem to think they belonged to Weinstein. He called them the Seiberg-Witten equations.

The theft shattered Weinstein. But he wasn't the only victim, and Weinstein was beginning to discover a dark pattern. While also in grad school, his brother, Bret, discovered disturbing details about a telomere study on rats. He shared his findings with his graduate advisor over the phone, who discounted the information. Then, she published her own study, stealing Bret's idea. However, his advisor didn't understand the true implications of the findings, and Bret Weinstein believes this incorrect assumption could invalidate every drug study on the planet utilizing lab mice, resulting in disastrous consequences (don't worry, it won't).

That's not all. During her academic tenure, his wife and Weinstein devised a way to calculate the inflation index using Gauge Theory. She introduced the idea to her professor, who dismissed the idea as wholly unnecessary and asked her to pursue another research topic. Weinstein now believes that the professor was part of an organization that wanted to avoid a more accurate measure of inflation being exposed to consolidate power in the hands of a few.

Thus, Eric believes that all three, by nefarious means, had been deprived of a Nobel Prize. He believes that if three Nobel Prize-winning ideas were suppressed in one family, imagine how many more there are in the world we don't know about. Disgusted by academia but never relinquishing his love of great science, he decides to leave academia and cash in. This is where he meets Peter Thiel.

Thiel and Weinstein bonded over his Harvard story, and Thiel hired him as the Managing Director of his firm, Thiel Capital. I have since learned that "Managing Director" is not a real job and Thiel Capital is a fake company. Thiel has five different investment firms that seem only to exist to employ crackpots.

Thiel and Weinstein have different communication methods, but you might notice a few similarities in their stories. They both place the exact date on which America began irrecoverably stagnating to the same one-year period in the 1970s. They both have a similar anecdote, where they looked around the room one day and realized that without the TV screens, it would look the same as it would have fifty years ago. They both bombastically agree that DEI initiatives are hurting one thing most severely – physics.

If you don't know, Peter Thiel is the most important person in Silicon Valley. Thiel studied philosophy at Stanford and, like every person you know who studied liberal arts at Stanford, became obsessed with Rene Girard. Thiel adopted Girard's belief that competition is overvalued as it can cause individuals to compete more with each other than with the problem. This applies to the private sector: if you ever pitch a startup to Thiel, make sure it's unique, as well as the public one: Universities are plagued by sameness, competition, and a lack of ideas.

On campus, Thiel gained some notoriety when he founded a conservative and libertarian newspaper called The Stanford Review as a reaction to changes to the first-year curriculum that recentered The Western Canon. This extended into some interesting theories about multiculturalism he crafted into a book called The Diversity Myth.

He then formed PayPal when his and Elon Musk's companies merged. My favorite anecdote from Ashlee Vance's 2015 biography on Musk is that Thiel's team threw away all of the code Musk had spent several years writing because it was unusably bad.

After selling PayPal, he became the first outside investor in Facebook, netting him his first billion. Then, he found Palantir, a data analysis company backed by the CIA that helps organizations like ICE, the NSA, and the IDF do what they do best more efficiently.

After all of this success, Thiel begins to look around the world, and he remembers what had bothered him since his undergraduate days: stagnation. His protest of the curriculum at Stanford in the 1980s seemed like an under reaction after seeing the enormity of the changes that had taken place in the intervening thirty years. Universities were now wholly overrun with DEI initiatives, and these initiatives had a clear purpose. The woke mob was scared of the power of science. Physicists and mathematicians, left to their own devices, had tremendous power. The Manhattan Project had built a bomb in three years. Imagine, if left alone, what they could do in four. By inundating physics departments with DEI initiatives, universities could deflect minds that could otherwise be pushing humanity forward into the mundane. Thiel believes this fear and cowardice is an existential threat to the Western world and society.

This is when Thiel began a decade-long crusade to reform the education system through the media. I have no evidence to back this up, but it seems plausible that for a multi-year stretch, Joe Rogan was on Thiel's payroll, either implicitly or explicitly. Jordan Peterson's "postmodern neo-Marxism" has an uncanny resemblance to Thiel's multiculturalism argument from The Diversity Myth. Peterson, of course, was the victim of wokeism run amok in the University system. He made his first appearances on Rogan just like Weinstein and his brother, Bret, who got a lot of attention after being embroiled in a woke frenzy at the famously conservative university Evergreen College.

Around this time, Thiel hires J.D. Vance to work at another of Thiel's (undoubtedly genuine, no funny business here) investment capital firms. Vance published his famous memoir at Penguin a year after being hired, and like all our other goons, speaks critically of the University system.

Thiel shares many similarities with fellow billionaire Silicon Valley guy Marc Andreessen. They both have a shared vision of human innovation through technology. They both have written nearly unintelligible screeds online about it. But unlike Marc Andreessen, who seems so clearly to only be in it because that's where his fatted calf has always been, Thiel appears to be genuinely idealistic. Thiel's famous line, "We wanted flying cars. Instead we got 140 characters," seems to actually keep him up at night. However, Thiel never struck me as someone overly concerned with personal legacy. He looks contented to stand in the shadows as long as he can shake the boat enough to get the world back on track.

But then Weinstein had another idea. Fame suited Weinstein nicely, and with half a million Twitter followers lauding his genius and a comfortable role in society, he began to think about his legacy. After years of living in the shadow of his academic defeats, he decided he couldn't take it anymore. He realized the last twenty years of his life had been lived in fear, hiding his academic convictions. The world needed more "cowboy scientists," people willing to take big swings at solving big problems, and fewer people who saw themselves only as small cogs in the scientific process, contented to tackle minor problems.

Weinstein had a secret project he had been working on since his Harvard days. This work directly connected those equations stolen right from under him to a new type of geometry depicting a universe in 14 dimensions that would unify all of physics and allow us to become a multi-planetary species—our most urgent mission. If proven true, this new theory of everything would cement him as the most important scientist in human history, more important than Einstein. He released his theory "Geometric Unity" to the world via a YouTube video on The Joe Rogan Experience.

Unfortunately, this theory was not proven correct. Google researcher Timothy Nguyen quickly co-authored a response to Weinstein's theory, discounting its general viability. Nguyen, having done his thesis on the Seiberg-Witten equations also believes Weinstein may not have a full grasp on them. Weinstein followed up, "Look at the itty bitty balls on Little Timmy."

To this day, Weinstein stands by his theory. He believes in "Geometric Unity" and is waiting for someone with the appropriate credentials to critique his work. He has publically called for Ed Witten to address him, but has recieved no reply. He knows Witten has too much to lose. He believes that history will vindicate him, though. Science is about sticking to your guns. Around this time, Weinstein stopped appearing on podcast episodes as the Managing Director of Thiel Capital and started appearing only as a "physicist."

Last year, he joined a search committee for UFO hunting. He says that if there are aliens, he is the only person on the planet with enough knowledge of physics to study them. However, the aliens may be implementing something he calls The Doubly Scientific Method. Unlike the classic Scientific Method, this one has an added assumption that the aliens may be trying to obfuscate their intentions and trick us without our knowledge.

I've been critically reflecting on why I love Eric Weinstein so much. The other night, I was cooking dinner, and I wanted something to listen to, so I put on a recent podcast of him talking about his theories. As I was listening, I felt my whole body relax. I realized I don't just listen to him as a kind of Schadenfreude. It is not just the pleasure of knowing the man dominating the room at the physics discussion was a complete crackpot. His vision of the world is seductive.

File:Solvay conference 1927.jpg

There is a famous photo of a group of scientists attending the Solvay Conference in 1927. Among the images are Einstein, Planck, Bohr, etc. Seventeen of the twenty-nine attendees at that conference went on to win a Nobel Prize in physics. Most are household names. It's not just Weinstein who wishes he was one of the people in that photograph; it's me, too. It's easy to find yourself wondering about the conditions that made that meeting of minds possible and about all the things you could accomplish in your own life if every distraction were removed and you could sit at a desk undisturbed for long enough. Then I realize that what I am imagining is having a wife or mother that swaddles you like a baby. This might be a good time to mention that Thiel thinks that society really started falling apart when Women's Suffrage happened.

Thiel and Weinstein believe that history is made not by the masses but by great men. 20th-century philosopher Sidney Hook wrote, "Genius is not the result of compounding talent. How many battalions are the equivalent of a Napoleon? How many minor poets will give us a Shakespeare? How many run of the mine scientists will do the work of an Einstein?"

Above all else, this is the delusion Thiel looks for when he picks people to join him. To communicate a message convincingly, a person must hold beliefs that sit in their soul. The only problem is any ego like this is bound to get overexcited, especially when propped up by a name brand. That's why we have so many carcasses of would-be philosophers in the trail of Thiel's ideological experiment. Weinstein, we've heard about. His brother Bret, after losing traction on Twitter, became a leading voice in the anti-vax movement and is probably the reason your aunt took Ivermectin. Peterson, of course, took his all-meat diet a little too seriously and ended up in a coma in a Russian hospital (don't worry, he's fine now). After getting cut loose by Thiel, Vance latched on to Trump and has since become an outspoken mouthpiece for him.

Thiel has one more ideological project. It's called the Thiel Fellowship. Each year, he pays a group of teenagers $100,000 to abandon college and start a company. When I lived in San Francisco, about half of my peers were there on Thiel's dime. I've never received any money from Thiel, but my life is connected to him in a million ways. When I lived there, I envied those peers. They were never concerned about money. They had reasonable-sized rooms in competitive hacker houses that you had to be good at coding to join. When invited to hang out, they would always be found typing on their computer in some 14th-floor space in downtown San Francisco designed for their innovation. They worked with certainty. They were always unwavering clear about their purpose, and became prolific, confident writers of their opinions, retweeted often by the likes of Paul Graham and Marc Andreessen.

As I moved out of San Francisco and onto other things, I followed these people and watched them change from people I envied into something grotesque in the rearview mirror.

Some former Thiel Fellowship recipients in my cohort include the founders of Scale AI. This $13 billion company provides human labor for all the AI companies that aren't actually AI at all, outsourcing work to an army of "clickworkers," aka a quarter million workers in Kenya, the Philippines, and Venezuela paid less than $1 per hour and meeting “minimum standards of fair work” in two of ten categories according to a study of their working conditions. Currently, Scale AI's Managing Director is ex-Chief of Staff to Peter Thiel, and ex-CTO of The United States Government.

Another member of my cohort follows up in a blog post ten years after her time as editor-in-chief of The Stanford Review that her opinions about concealed carry on campuses were formed mainly as a reaction to her classmates, whom she perceived as too liberal.

Today, Thiel has taken a step back from politics. He has returned to investing after backing Trump's victory and seeing that even a monumental force like him couldn't shake institutions out of their slumber.

Ten years after leaving San Francisco, I no longer expect my peers to open their eyes and see the world as I do. Thiel gave my peers the first taste of money and the validation of a name brand. Both will continue to flow through them and back to people like Thiel, plus interest, as long as they stick to the script. So much for free thinking. This will be Thiel's legacy.

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory expects first light next year, three years behind schedule. There's only one problem: space junk. In the ten years it took to build, we launched too many satellites, and as a result, we'll no longer be able to see.